The Pony Express, St. Joseph, Missouri

Day 186

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     As stated in earlier posts, St. Joseph Missouri was the western most station for the railroad being built from the east. As more and more pioneers traveled to California there was more and more demand for better communication from the east. Family members wanted to keep track of where their kin went, and the 49’ers wanted to tell of there fortunes. The civil war was beginning to brew and the western territories of our Country wanted to know what was going on.

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     In 1858 John Patee built this magnificent hotel to serve travelers to St. Joseph. Furnishings were shipped by steamboat. Offices were located on the first floor, the most famous of which was the office of the Pony Express. Hotel rooms were located on the second, third and fourth floors. It was the largest hotel west of the Mississippi River. It boasted such features as gas light, running water and flush toilets.

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     On the hotel’s north side, across the street from the Pony Express Stables, was a door which the pony express rider and horse would use to pick up the mail inside the building.

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     Contrary to popular belief, the Pony Express was not a government run operations (probably why it was so successful), rather it was the brainchild of three enterprising entrepreneurs, William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell, who operated a freight company taking supplies out West. They were successful in acquiring the mail contract from the government. Saint  Joseph was selected as the starting point because the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad could bring the mail here from the East Coast.

     The Pony Express only operated for 18 months, from April 3, 1860 to October 21, 1861,  during which time it carried 30,835 letters.  Letters came by train from the East or were mailed locally at the Patee House and assembled into the mochila to be carried 1,966 miles to Sacramento, California, by horseback. Letters cost $5 and would arrive in California in the advertised time of ten days. Completion of the telegraph to California in 1861 eliminated the need for the Pony Express.

     Israel Landis (do you think he was Jewish) designed the pony express saddle and mochila, which was Spanish for knapsack. When the rider mounted, his weight held the mochila in place. Each of the 4 pockets held five pounds of mail apiece. Three of the pockets were locked in St. Joseph and were unlocked in Sacramento. The 4th pocket was not locked and was for dispatches along the route.

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     Letters carried by Pony Express were put in the mochila in this room for the 1,966 mile ride to California. There were 172 relay and home stations between here and Sacramento. A relay station was were the rider changed horses, and a home station is where riders were changed. The relay stations were 9 to 15 miles apart, and the home stations 75 to 100 miles apart. It usually took a rider ten to twelve hours to travel between home stations. At the home station, he would wait for the mail from the opposite direction and then retrace his route back to the home station from which he started.

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     Johnny Fry was the first Phony Express rider. He left the stables at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3, 1860. (Like Kennedy and 9-11, everyone remembers where they were on that day).

     On display in the hotel is this 1050 pound ball of twine. It was once featured on Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

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